How You Like Me Now? The Resurrection of Freddie Gibbs
Just over three years ago, Freddie Gibbs was living the dream. He had recently inked a deal with music industry goliath Interscope Records, escaping the bleak backdrop of Gary, Indiana to set up shop in Los Angeles where he would record with mainstream hit-makers like Polow da Don and Just Blaze. Fresh off of a military discharge, he had only been rapping for a year at the time. But, one day, when Gibbs hit the studio with producer J.R. Rotem to lay down a track entitled “Neverending Cycle,” his dream would come to an abrupt end. According to Gibbs, that very track was the last straw for his overseers at the label. Concerned that his gritty style wouldn’t rack up radio spins, Interscope pulled the plug on the promising artist’s project and cut him from their roster.
Never one to bask in self-pity, Gibbs kept his head up and segued back into his independent grind over the next two years. He took “Neverending Cycle” along with a handful of other tracks from Interscope’s cutting room floor, hit the studio to tack on some new material, and dropped his breakthrough mixtapes, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik, in 2009. These exceptional tapes introduced fans to the first authentic gangster voice to bless hip-hop in years. Gibbs blew audiences’ minds by blending the double-time flow of legendary Midwest artists like Bone Thugs n’ Harmony and the swagger of southern luminaries like UGK with lyrical content occasionally akin to that of the iconic Tupac Shakur. The critically acclaimed mixtapes extended the Gary-bred rapper’s fanbase to a national level and, presumably, caused a few heads to roll in Interscope’s A&R Department.
Of course, Gibbs’ story didn’t start in an L.A. recording studio. That was just his legacy. The man himself grew up on Virginia Street off of 17th Avenue on the East Side of Gary, Indiana—a place he’s described as a “modern day ghost town” some 30 miles outside of Chicago. Like many towns along the rustbelt, Gary died with the steel industry and for over a generation now the city has been plagued with poverty, crime, and violence. As a result, Gary has been officially named “America’s Most Dangerous City” on multiple occasions.
But it was in that very town and in spite of those difficult circumstances that Freddie Gibbs, born Freddie Tipton in 1982, came of age. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a professional athlete as he played football and basketball at Washington Park. “I didn’t want to do nothing else,” he told me in an interview. He hit some bumps along the way, though, getting caught up in gang life and crime from time to time. But, by his late-teens, Freddie had become a star wide receiver at Gary’s West Side High School and even earned himself an athletic scholarship to Ball State University. However, he was expelled from the University for frequently cutting class.
Shortly after he was dismissed by Ball State, Gibbs headed back to Gary and hit the streets. Unfortunately, Gibbs didn’t bring with him the luck he possessed in his youth. He ran into some trouble with the law and wound up in a court-ordered boot camp which led him to a short-lived stint in the military. It didn’t end well. “I got kicked out for drugs. It wasn’t the right place for me to be, man, I got a problem with authority,” Gibbs said. After that, Gibbs tried to hold down some nine-to-five jobs but found they weren’t for him. He turned to the streets again and tried his hand at “hustling, pimping, and selling drugs” before finding his true calling.
Finally, it hit him. Gibbs had grown up listening to hip-hop legends like OutKast, UGK, and Scarface—his favorite emcee—but it never struck him that one day he could make a living performing alongside them. Then again, after surviving the streets of Gary and earning a football scholarship to Ball State it wouldn’t be the first time he had defied the odds. So, facing boredom and a dearth of opportunity in his hometown, Gibbs stepped into the booth. “I had nothing else to do, you know? I had just got kicked out of school, kicked out of the military and it was just something I fell into because I was bored,” Gibbs explained. He quickly found himself embedded in Gary’s hip-hop scene, befriending artists like Will Scrilla and the Grind Family. Soon after, Gibbs popped up on the radar of Interscope Records, got signed to a deal and the rest was history… sort of.
As you know, Gibbs’ stay at Interscope was practically over before it started—just like Ball State and the military. But, this time, he had finally found a dream worth chasing. This time, he would not allow himself to fall short of his goal. Things would get far worse before they got better, though.
It was 2007 and, in that year alone, Gibbs not only lost his dream job, but also his two grandmothers, his unborn child, and his cousin—the latter to a murder he witnessed firsthand. His dream had eroded into a tumultuous nightmare and, for the first time in a long time, Freddie Gibbs’ bright future seemed to be dimming. He started taking pain killers to cope with his loss and soon found himself addicted. He struggled to kick the habit until he finally came to this realization: “You gotta know there’s plenty of life to live, so you just gotta live it or kill yourself today. Every year I gotta progress and get better and if I don’t get better every year I’m stuck at a standstill.” It’s clear the Gary emcee practiced what he preached because he’s been stepping up his game at a steady pace for the last three years.
Today Freddie “Gangsta” Gibbs’ hard work has paid off and his success has turned him into a difficult man to keep track of. One day he’s performing at a high-end strip club in L.A. with TiRon, the next he’s across the country playing a music festival at Pittsburgh’s Iron City Brewery. Between shows, Freddie has been in the studio with the Alchemist working on the duo’s upcoming EP, The Devil’s Palace. There’s even talk that he’s forming a supergroup called P.O.C. (Pulled Over by the Cops) with two of his “Oil Money” collaborators, Bun B and Chuck Inglish.
One thing is for sure, though, Gibbs been working relentlessly on his upcoming debut album, Baby-Faced Killa, which he says will feature Twista, Bun B, Fashawn and Yukmouth along with production from Hi-Tek, Jim Jonsin and Ski Beatz. While no official release date has been announced for The Devil’s Palace, Gibbs said in a recent interview that he hoped to drop Baby-Faced Killa on February 14, 2011. In his own words: “I’m gonna be breaking some hearts on Valentine’s Day.”